November 27, 2004
Europa as nation - and usable design

While we're on the topic of European Union design, have a look at the entry page of the EU web portal. Notice how the politics of the EU get in the way of good, usable design? No? Here's how:
Why every politician who cares about getting reelected is busy saying that the EU is a union of independent nations, the EU machinery itself is busy promoting Europa as nation (Design evidence: The "one-star" Europa logo

on the portal site dominates the 12 star flag.

The 12 stars represents the nations of the EU, so by extension the "one-star" EU logo represents unity).

In the nation of Europa there might be room for all the national languages , but certainly not for the national flags, the quintessential national symbols. That's why the list of localised sites is a bland list of text-only references:

- instead of a much more scannable list of flags. It is really hard to find your language in the list. And more so if, like me, your language is one of many similar languages with identical looking entries. Everybody is able to recognize their own flag in an instant. Yes, I might be overthinking this.

The fact that the entry page exists is evidence why EU as nation is in trouble in the first place. There is no information that can be represented as the opening page that would make everybody feel they belong. I think somebody in the EU system needs to talk to Clotaire Rapaille. "Nation" is so off code for Europa and Europa is off code for Nation.

Posted by Claus at November 27, 2004 01:22 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments (post your own)

The languages are recognisable according to the ISO 639 Language Codes ( The ISO language codes are not political, emotional tied - flags are.

Posted by: Paul Bischoff on November 27, 2004 10:38 PM

BTW... That article is great reading. I do understand your point of alienating people when it comes to the EU web portal.
Unfortunately, I think things are not that simple that some flags instead of ISO language codes would do the trick.
Personally, I do not have many (reptilian) feelings when it comes to flags - but I do have when it comes to those national stickers on cars telling me where people come from.
Many European countries already have license plates with a blue strip, the countries abbreviation for vehicles (like DK for Denmark or S for Sweden).

Posted by: Paul Bischoff on November 27, 2004 10:39 PM

Yes, there are ISO language codes, and yes they have two languages in Belgium, and yes more than one country has German as the official language - but who knows the codes anyway? And who couldn't handle the intuition of "flag for language" even if it isn't accurate.
I very much doubt your statement that you aren't able to scan your flag faster than any text representing your language.
I think a field test would prove me right - the image would get faster, more precise recall in a test.

Posted by: Dee on November 27, 2004 10:46 PM

Perhaps a field test would.

If I were to have a stab at remaking that page, I would add some server script that reads the default language settings of the visitors browser and sends him to the right language page.

The occasional oddball visitor not fit for a server script redirect could then visit the page in question on which I would show an image map chart of Europe where people could hover their mouse over a country and decide which language they would prefer.

Posted by: Paul Bischoff on November 29, 2004 11:44 AM

Hi, just stumbled on this page from Google.

I'm from Canada and speak English. I've never seen "my" language represented by my flag but I have no problem with that. It's always been an American or British flag. And here in Canada, like Belgium, we have two founding nations, English and French, so Canadians themselves might get offended if you used their own flag to represent the language they speak!

If you think about it, the flag icons you suggest make sense even from a purely linguistic perspective. The flags represent the nation where the language originated: English in England, French in France, German in Germany, Dutch in Holland, Swedish in Sweden...Nobody is saying that everyone who speaks French belongs to the nation of France. The flags can just as easily represent linguistic nations as political ones. Of course it could get very tricky. What flag will be used to represent the Basque language! Or Catalan!

Anyhow, that's my attempt to stomp out Warnock's Dilemma. Keep up the good work, you've got a "Classy" site!

Posted by: Ernest on December 8, 2004 12:04 PM
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